John Murray calls the 16th century Protestant Reformation “the greatest event for Christendom in the last 1500 years” (Collected Writings of John Murray Vol.2, p.203). The rediscovery of the gospel of God’s grace in Christ turned the world upside-down and changed all of subsequent history.
How does one explain the remarkable power and effect of the Protestant Reformation?
After all, the reformers had none of the technological advantages that we enjoy today, such as the internet, cell phones, radio, television, rapid transit, etc.
They had to rely on the pen, the printing press, and the preaching of the Word of God.
And they faced constant opposition and even violent persecution from many who were in positions of great ecclesiastical and political power.
So what was the secret of the Protestant Reformation’s success? Luther himself writes,
“I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philipp [Melanchthon] and [Nikolaus von] Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the Papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses on it. I did nothing; the Word did everything . . . .” (Euan Cameron, The European Reformation, p.106-07)
Now Martin Luther certainly labored diligently. As one writer notes, “His collected writings in German are over 100 volumes” (Stephen J. Nichols, The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World, p.16). But at the end of the day, the real power behind the Reformation was the Word of God. As Luther put it, “the Word did everything.”
And so if we would see a new reformation in our own day, we too must learn to trust in and rely upon the power of the Word of God. For it is the Word of God that is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). It is the Word of God that does not return void or empty, but always accomplishes the purposes for which God sent it (Isaiah 55:11). And it is the gospel alone that is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).